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Gail Kirkman: A power performer and fully fueled on a WFPB diet  

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Southland distance and track and field athlete Gail Kirkman has every right to be proud of some remarkable achievements over her lifetime, but these days, when it comes to discussing the details, there’s one acronym that covers it all: WFPB.

Several years ago, a family member gave her a print copy of Whole Food Living magazine, and it turned her life around. She had been a healthy eater prior to that, but suddenly, “everything made so much sense”, and the benefits were clear from the outset.

Like many people, Gail was never motivated by a health condition to adopt this way of eating, although her professional background as a nurse with a special interest in nutrition did help, she says.

“Since I went nursing, and I suppose like a lot of health professionals, you find yourself at some stage standing in the middle of a medical ward full of very unwell people.

You realise that most of them didn’t need to be there if they’d been able to; if they’d known how to make better lifestyle choices, particularly in regard to food. So, you know, that has had quite an influence. It certainly did for me.”

Early interest in nutrition

Gail’s interest in nutrition goes back to the 1970s, a time when “they were still saying you needed lots of dairy for calcium and that sort of thing”, she says. “But it did make me very interested.

“I had a much-loved auntie who was a vegetarian, and that was a little bit unusual back then. So, I did my major project for the year on vegetarianism. I learned a whole lot of stuff that I didn’t know, including all the benefits of land use and sustainability and that sort of thing.

“Our family has had vegetarian and vegan meals ever since, you know, not consistently, but certainly some each week. So, it wasn’t a huge change to have to go 100%.”

Gail is very much in favour of the concept of whole food and the fact that everything is as unprocessed as possible. “It makes good sense,” she says.

These days, running is very much a shared enjoyment with her husband Gary who is still a competitive marathon runner. They also share the same age – 72.

Of course, food preparation is always important for any competitive athlete, and I was also curious to know if she favoured the use of energy drinks to boost her performance.

The medals above are the reason why Gail was a finalist at the 2024 Sports Awards. She entered seven events at this year’s NZ Masters Athletics Championships in Christchurch and was surprised and pleased to win all of them. Highlights were W70 national records in the 800m and High jump. “I have no doubt these results were due to the two bags and three boxes of WFPB supplies I had loaded into my little car for the 1400 km round trip,” she said, “I knew what sort of food would be available at the venue! The other highlight was that I stayed pain-free and with high energy levels throughout the three days of competition so that for the final event, on the third day, (a 200m mixed age group sprint) while others were pulling out with various aches and injuries, I was still feeling good and managed to win by a fraction of a second.”

For both her and her husband, having the ability to still compete at this stage of life was something she could never have imagined.

A topic that frequently arises in the conversation corridors of WFPB centres around lifespan. The ‘diet’ itself has been associated with a longer life, but Gail is not comfortable with that concept.

There are broader aspects involved here, and when you listen, it’s impossible to ignore her overwhelming gratitude for the time she and Gary have shared together.

Compared with other athletes their age, Gail values the area they live in (Te Anau) with a special advantage over city-based competitors who spend much of their time running on concrete surfaces.

“Living here in Te Anau we have access to all the lovely great walks and bush tracks so most of our running is done on soft surfaces. I believe that is an important factor. We’re never getting that jarring you get from running on concrete.”

Both Te Anau and nearby Queenstown have become a mecca for competitive athletes and bikers of all ages.

The Southland Sports Awards always make for a great night as they celebrate various categories across many different codes. The photo above was taken next to the ‘Master’s Achievement’ roll of honour. Over the past 15 years, Gail has been a finalist several times and has won twice.

In Winter, the Queenstown / Te Anau region is one of the coldest areas of New Zealand, but both Gail and Garry have now become well-adjusted to it. In spite of the “lack of nightlife,” they thoroughly enjoy their vegetable garden and their joint commitment to keeping fit.

“Gary is a keen gardener. So, one of our great benefits here is that we have a fabulous, large vegetable garden. We hardly ever have to buy vegetables or fresh herbs because our garden is full of them and that’s been extremely helpful, of course, in this way of life. We get a lot of greens and greens make such a difference.”

Gail’s WFPB reading recommendations

“Apart from all the standard reading like, The China Study, I would strongly recommend Plant Powered Protein, by Brenda Davis, Vesanto Melina and Cory Davis. Also, The Plant Based Diet Revolution: 28 days to a healthier you by Alan Desmond.

Peter Barclay
Peter Barclayhttp://www.wholefoodliving.life
Has a professional background in journalism, photography and design. He is a passionate Kiwi traveler and an ardent evangelist for protecting all the good things New Zealand is best known for. With his wife Catherine is also the co-owner of Wholefoodliving.

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